Formula One legend Michael Schumacher was recently the cover star of Die Aktuelle magazine, with the caption of the story reading “Michael Schumacher, the first interview.” The only problem was, the seven-time F1 champion hadn’t granted an interview to Die Aktuelle or anyone else.
The German weekly publication had instead published an AI-generated ‘interview’ with the 54-year-old racing driver, who suffered major head injuries in a skiing accident ten years ago and has not been seen in public since.
Schumacher’s family are reportedly planning legal action against the magazine. The story raises important ethical questions about the use of AI, though it also raises pertinent ones about basic decency. Did the publishers really think it was right to compel AI to larp as Schumacher, and to then print the interview as though it was a major scoop?
The interview that wasn’t
In the Die Aktuelle ‘interview’, the Schumacher impersonator talked about how his life had changed since his skiing accident in the French Alps in December, 2013.
“That was a horrible time for my wife, my children and the whole family,” it wrote.
“I was so badly injured that I lay for months in a kind of artificial coma, because otherwise my body couldn’t have dealt with it all.”
Whomever had compiled the prompts for the AI’s answers had been thorough if the article’s introduction was anything to go by. It read: “No meagre, nebulous half-sentences from friends. But answers from him! By Michael Schumacher, 54!”
The ‘interview’ was prefaced with, “Here it is – the incredible interview! With redeeming answers to the most burning questions that the whole world has been asking for so long.”
Although a strap line on the front cover said “It sounded deceptively real,” revealing that the interview was not genuine, many could have been mistaken for thinking the words came directly from the former Ferrari driver. Particularly as his smiling face was on the magazine’s cover.
Fans deride ‘scumbag behavior’
The Schumacher family has closely guarded his privacy since the accident, limiting access to those closest to the driver and disclosing little information to the media.
After being placed into an induced coma after the accident, Schumacher returned home in September 2014. In 2021, his wife Corinna said, “We do everything we can to make Michael better and to make sure he’s comfortable, and to simply make him feel our family, our bond.
“It’s very important to me that he can continue to enjoy his private life as much as possible. Michael always protected us, and now we are protecting Michael.”
Fans have been responding to the distasteful AI interview on social media. “What an incredibly cruel thing to do to his family, absolute scumbag behaviour,” said Hazel Southwell, who covers motorsport for ESPN.
Another wrote, “How low can the media go. Wrong on so many levels.”
It is unclear from the article which chatbot was responsible for the interview, though the most likely candidate is ChatGPT.